Diary of a Pandemic: From Italy to India

Masha Hassan

In Turin, Italy, a rider working for Glovo(a courier service) received a fine of 4 thousand euros from the city police. Marwen, who lives in Carignano, the southern outskirts of the capital, told of his misadventure on the Turin edition of La Stampa. He explained that the app he has for Glovo deletes the data of the delivery for privacy, so he could not prove that he was around for work. “Despite having the company bag, they contested the fact that I was outside the municipality of residence, on a private vehicle for no apparent reason,” he said. “If I have to pay, I probably won’t be able to recover the sum even with a year of work.”

“Andra tutto bene” written in front of a shop in Bologna, Italy
Photo: Masha Hassan

In March the death of 12 inmates in Italian prisons due to a riot over Covid-19 exposed the ugly reality of the invisibility of incarcerated peoples, reminding us the social fault lines of class during a catastrophe.
As the days get tougher police brutality, state violence and stories of unjust fines on civilians and protestors in Milan and Torino are being legitimized under the garb of ‘precaution’.

I sit under lockdown here in Italy and watch the headlines of sold out mainstream media houses (republic tv and Italian newspapers) painting the protestors as antagonists and the state as our savior. Witnessing privileged individualistic ignorance and empowered imbecility surfacing in both the realities, in precisely the same manner, be it putting up posters on Italian balconies that says “Tutto andra bene” (everything will be fine) or the clapping, beating of pots from the balconies of Indian homes. Here I find no difference. This is in fact an enlightening comprehension of ‘Denial’, clouding my head in haziness but reminding me of a classic novel by Albert Camus, La peste. This philosophical masterpiece is a story about the refusal to acknowledge that bubonic plague is a collective disaster and not a personal one. La peste, albeit, is an allegory, both literal and metaphorical to fascism.

Delhi was in ashes in February, the stench of fear profusely wrapped the city. The organized state sponsored terrorism with accounts of police being complicit held the victims as perpetrators. The wounds still afresh from the genocide, the news of Covid 19 reaching India put everything to a halt, hunger and thirst hanging heavy under the flaming heat, the lockdown hit the hardest to the lowest in the social hierarchy. The scene of an exodus of internally displaced migrants walking miles back to reach their homes couldn’t be a better example of a failed system with no organizational structure, abandoning 40 million labourers. The questions that should have been asked to, and answered by the political elite are “why a four hour notice before the lockdown when the first case was discovered in January”, “what could have been done to avoid this?” “Why wasn’t sufficient provision of food and shelter provided by the host cities”, instead the shift in paradigm plays well to divert the question mark that floats above all our heads into “why unlawful arrests of Kashmiri and Muslim journalists, students and activists amidst this catastrophe” “Why is the middle class silent?” Here the banging of pots is a metaphor to our judiciary system; empty, noisy and ineffectual.

As our so-called ‘trusted’ institutions obediently continue to coat the virus with lies and misinformation, a coordinated endeavor is in full throttle to exploit the anxiety of Covid -19. The Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Nizamuddin and its role for spreading the virus has become another excuse to dehumanize a community. After all, the only way to prove personal and professional solidarity towards a totalitarian regime is through a systematic oppression of the vulnerable.

The slogan says “If we can work, then we can also go on strike”. Source: Si Cobas Genova

On the 4th of April, a government hospital in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur denied admitting a pregnant Muslim woman because of her religion, the outcome leading to the death of her child after the delivery. Another news surfaced in Ahmedabad, about the segregationist policy of a hospital on the lines of religious ethnicity. Separate wards for Muslims and Hindus, a reflection of an apartheid.

Stanley Cohen, a sociologist, argues denial is ‘when persons, who, as audiences, bystanders, observers, onlookers, spectators or witnesses, have come to see, hear or know what happened or is going on – either at the time or later, for whatever reason – in good or bad faith – claim not to know.’

To understand how denial breathes heavily and contaminates in India, we must first recognize the actors and agency of this peculiar plague called Hindutva; the andh bhakt and Sangh Parivar. The contingency of denial in this case is Whataboutism and therefore the penance of describing certitude remains in vain because, “we wont deny but justify”. The andh bhakt is in constant qualms, unable to differ various social, political and economical realities from their inducements incited through their ‘imagined religions’. Wearing blinders to demonetization to lynching to genocide and now the instrumentalization of the pandemic, they shall never budge to ascertain the transcendental powers of Lord Modi. Is it because ‘sab changa hai’ (all is well) is a more comfortable narrative to digest?


Masha Hassan is an Indian student pursuing her masters in Global Cultures from the department of History and Oriental Studies, University of Bologna, Italy.



Leave a Reply